Rugby clubs wait for update on roadmap

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London, following the tightening of England's Covid-19 tiers. - Credit: PA

Rugby clubs across the South West should to be put out of their misery once and for all when Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveils his roadmap to normality next week.

Clubs were gearing-up for a return to semi-competitive rugby in early January, as per a previous road map, when rising Coronavirus transmission figures plunged the country into lockdown.

Since late December Bideford, Ilfracombe, Torrington and South Molton RFCs have been left in limbo wondering whether they will or won’t play any rugby this season.

Johnson is due address the nation from Downing Street on February 22 when he is expected to outline a gradual easing of lockdown measures. Details leaked already suggest the resumption of outdoor sports is among the Prime Minister’s targets.

Other than a handful of friendly games played in mid-December between lockdowns, clubs have not played since this time last year.

It seems likely there will be some good news for rugby clubs when Johnson speaks on February 22, but an RFU has source warned clubs not to expect too much.

“The competitive season proposed by the RFU is due to end on May 24 so even if rugby can start sometime in March there is not much time to play anything,” said Mike Gee, the league secretary for the South West Division.

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“If we are being honest with ourselves I think we all know this season has gone from a competitive standpoint.

“Until Public Health England say we can or cannot do, it is hard to speculate. I can’t see any official competitions taking place, although if clubs want to organise friendlies through the summer there is nothing to stop them.”

Gee said the long-term forecast for recreational rugby remains unclear due to a number of factors induced by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“In one or two places – Cornwall is one of them – clubs are asking if divisions can be reduced from 14 to 12 clubs for next season,” said Gee.

“That would mean substantial re-organisation followed by another potential re-organisation as early as the year after if second teams are allowed into the league system.”

The RFU have been trying to reduce the size of divisions below National League level for a while, but resistance from clubs has prevented the change being adopted wholeheartedly.

Gee also highlighted two other potential problems that might mitigate against league rugby returning in September.

“There could be some clubs unable to compete financially at a certain level as they cannot afford the travel costs,” said Gee.

“And clubs in Dorset and Wilts are already saying they don’t want to play league rugby before Christmas as they want three months of friendlies first.”

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